Friday 29 February 2008

Let them eat "Bread"???

OK, so Marie Antoinette did not say "Let them eat Bread." As we all know she really said, "Let them eat Cake." But, in all honesty the word cake just didn't sound right for this month's Daring Baker Challenge, probably because I didn't bake one, even though I'd a ruther it had been cake.

I've certainly been challenged since joining the Daring Bakers several months back. I've made some pretty awesome, if not alien looking, potato bread, some fabulous Bostini Pies, a lovely Buche de Noel and a gorgeous Lemon Meringue Pie!!!

Cake . . . I can bake! Cookies and pies too! Biscuits are no problem for me either, but bread . . . it is my nemesis.

For years, I have tried and only produced tasty looking doorstops, which the many birds in our garden have more than enjoyed. My ex husband used to produce loaves and loaves of lovely fluffy white bread week after week, which was ardently gobbled down by the five kids, and oh yes, me too. It was lovely. Beautifully fluffy and tasty loaves. Well worth the mess he made when he made the kitchen table dance across the kitchen floor while kneading it.

When I found out this month that the challenge was yet another loaf of bread I was struck with fear. I so can not make bread, but I was determined to "rise" to the challenge. (Every pun intended!)

The Sour Dough's Mary and I Like to Cook's Sara were the host's of this month's Daring Baker challenge. The recipe, Julia's Child's French bread from the cookery book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2".

My first problem came in reading the recipe which was posted online for all of us. My eyes just couldn't get around it for some reason. Not a problem though, because I work as a chef in a big house for a woman who is as cookbook obsessed as I am, if not worse(can it be possible???), I was able to find a copy of the book up there and photo copy the recipe (all umpteen pages of it) for myself and bring it home to study and work with.

I didn't have pizza stones or baking boards and I was a bit daunted when I read the part about using them, but I plunged in head first anyways and made it to the best of my ability. I have a confession to make now and I am holding my hands up, I did use my bread machine to knead the dough, and for the initial rising. I know . . . the shame of it all. But it did work marvelously!

I really got a bit confused when reading the bits about the shaping and forming of the dough, and I have to confess that by that part I was getting quite tired and so, I confess again. I decided just to make a "Boule" or . . . the lazy woman's way *out* of having to shape French Bread. Besides I was a bit afraid that in moving the dough, which was rather nicely risen by that point, I would somehow destroy the *look* of it and so I shaped the boule onto some parchment paper on my baking sheet for the final rising.

I do have to say that it turned out rather well for this rather inept bread baker and we both really enjoyed eating it. I used the leftovers yesterday to make a rather delicious Meatball Sub Casserole yesterday for our tea, which you can find here on Maries Muses (my other blog) . And, if you are so inclined as to want to try this out for yourself, you can find the recipe for the French Bread in full on the Breadchick Mary's blog,The Sour Dough.

PSSTTT!!!! It was awfully delicious fresh from the oven and spread with some cold butter and peanut butter! (childhood memories kicking in here)

Oh . . . something else I learned this month. Upload your photos right away onto a photo saving site or your husband will think he is doing a good thing and clean up the desktop without telling you and get rid of your best photos. (Can you say "dead man"?) I'm sorry folks, this was all that was left and I only *just* rescued them because he hadn't emptied the garbage that I had left in the photo downloading folder. Phew!!! Oh the shame of it all!

PS - Aunt Fern's Coconut Cookies were the clear winner this week. Look for them real soon and in the meantime, time for another Make Me Bake poll.

Thursday 28 February 2008

Hot Cross Buns, A Tag, and a Really Good Pudding

We've had such a lovely week here at Oak Cottage. The sun has been shining and the garden has been humming with all kinds of activity. Little bumbly bees and lots of birds. It feels like Spring has truly sprung, although, they do say to "not cast a clout until May is out!" You just can't help but be inspired by all the sunshine and warmer temperatures though, and, after all, Easter is just a few weeks away! (If you haven't done so already make sure you leave a comment on my Easter Giveaway post for a chance to get in on the fun and win a lovely chocolate bunny or egg full of lovely hazelnet truffles!)

A few days back, Tammy of Wee Treats By Tammy challenged me to do a meme. I do love a challenge, and so here goes:

What were you doing 10 years ago?

Believe it or not ten years ago I was living in a house out in the rural countryside of Nova Scotia, Canada. I spent my days taking care of a home and five children, while I crafted and sewed dolls, teddy bears, Angels and Christmas ornaments for various craft sales that I used to ply my wares at. Just goes to show that your life can change in an instant and you never know where the road is going to lead.

What were you doing 1 year ago?
Probably the exact same thing I am doing now, but with different words. ;-) (in other words blogging!)

Five snacks that you enjoy: (this could be interesting, now I get to tell you all my dirty little secrets!)

1. Cheap white bread, but very fresh and soft, spread with cold butter and Heinz Sandwich Spread

2. Ready Salted Plain Potato Crisps eaten with a bar of good milk chocolate (Green and Blacks being my favourite) It's that salty/sweet thing.

3. Fresh Apples, cut into thin slices and spread with cream cheese

4. salted pistachio nuts, un-dyed

5. chocolate, chocolate, chocolate (DID I mention chocolate?)

Five things that you would do if you were a millionaire: (I hope we're talking multi here!)

1. Quit my day job to write fulltime

2. Open that Bed and Breakfast I have always wanted to open

3. Set up several Perpetual Funds in the children's charity "Compassion." We already sponser two children and I would so much love to be able to sponser more.

4. Set up trust funds for the grandchildren and pay off all my family's debts and mortgages.

5. I've always wanted to go on a Norwegian Cruise. I guess it'd be the perfect time

Five bad habits:

1. I am a bit of a clutter bug. (shut up Todd!)

2. I day dream too much.

3. I eat far too much.

4. I'm addicted to celebrity gossip, although I won't go out and buy one of the sleaze mags. I prefer to stand in front of the magazine stand at the shops and quick scan the covers. I know that most of it is not true, but I just can't help myself! (my ex mother in law used to buy the National Enquirer each and every week. She believed that if it was in print then it had to be true)

5. I have chocolate stashes all over the house that only I know about. God help the person who gets in my way or steals any of it behind my back!

Five things you would never wear again:

1. Bikini
Over fifty and fluffy. Nuff said

2. Mini Skirt
(See number one)

3. Magic pants
Now I know what a cheap sausage feels like, with all of my stuffing oozing out the top and bottom, but wierdly constricted in the middle.

4. The red jacket trimmed with authentic artificial white lambs wool that I just had to have or I'd die back in Grade ten. My love affair ended with it the minute I got on the school bus and heard the whisperings of "Here Comes Santa Claus" being sung by a few choice people. Longest day of my life.

5. A knitted toque. Can you say Hat Hair? (Only slightly less annoying and attractive as Bed Hair is)

Five favourite toys:

1. My yellow Kitchen Aid Blender that I won as an award by having the Star Letter of the month in Sainsbury's magazine.

2. My hachoir. Chopping herbs was never easier, or quicker!

3. My wooden lemon reamer. Does a perfect job and looks so cute in my drawer.

4. My salt pig. (It's actually a pottery Fish that I got a few years back when we were on Holidays in Cumbria. I fell in love with it at first sight and had to have it)

5. My stick blender. How could you ever live without one of these!

Wow, I can't believe I'm finished already! So, now you know a bit more about me that you never imagined knowing or ever even wanted to know and it's my turn to tag five of you, which I really can't do, so if you are reading this, consider yourself tagged!

One of the things I love most about Easter is "Hot Cross Buns." Hot Cross Buns, Hot Cross Buns, one a penny, two a penny . . . you know the drill. I could eat them cold or warmed up in the oven and toasted and spread with oodles and oodles of butter. I just can't get enough of them. Another tasty way I like to enjoy them is in this lovely Hot Cross Bun Bread and Butter pudding. If you've never tried this, then . . . you've never truly lived.

*Hot Cross Bun Bread and Butter Pudding*

Serves 6

This is the perfect way to use up some of those hot cross buns that have gotten past their freshest. It lovely and rich and full of the wonderful flavours of dried fruit and spice.

3 medium eggs
150g golden caster sugar
425ml double cream
425ml milk
softened butter for spreading
5 to 6 hot cross buns, each one sliced into three through the middle
1 tsp vanilla paste
90g apricot jam, warmed

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/375*F. Lightly butter a 2.5 litre deep baking dish and set it aside. Be sure to select one that will fit easily inside a larger roasting dish with some room around the sides of it.

Whisk the eggs and sugar to gether in a bowl. Once they are well mixed, whisk in the milk, cream and vanilla paste. Set aside.

Liberally butter the hot cross bun slices, including the top side where the cross is, with the softened butter. Fit them, put back together, into the prepared baking dish, fitting them in as compactly as possible. Pour the egg mixure through a seive over top and around the buns, submerging them as much as possible.

Place the baking dish into the roasting pan and fill the roasting pan up with cold water that comes two thirds of the way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake for 1 hour, until the custard is puffy and set and the bread is golden. Remove from the oven and brush the surface of the pudding with some of the heated apricot jam. It gives the pudding a lovely sticky glaze. Serve immediately. (we like it warm with some cream spooned on top) The leftovers (if you have any) are great for breakfast, honest!!

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Nuts About Biscuits

I've always been crazy about Biscuits. I love them in any way, shape or form. I have a really great biscuit recipe that I got from my mother years ago. Flakey and tender, they rise to every occasion, and have become somewhat of an expected treat when people come to share a meal with us here at Oak Cottage.

I was thrilled this week when the Tuesday With Dorie recipe turned out to be a biscuit one!! Although I could never hope to replace my tried and true family favourite, it's nice once in a while to try something different.

These biscuits, while a bit sweeter than the ones I am used to, were absolutely gorgeous! They have a lovely short crumb, a wonderfully flakey texture, and beautiful flavour, not to mention the delightful crunch you get from the toasted pecan nuts. Not ever being able to ever leave well enough alone, I brushed the tops of mine with a little milk and sprinkled on some Demerara sugar for an additional crunch. I got nine beautifully risen biscuits from this recipe.

I can picture lovely little peach shortcakes made with them this summer when the peaches are in season, but in the meantime, we enjoyed them warm from the oven with some apricot preserves and a healthy dollop of clotted cream. Can you spell H-E-A-V-E-N??? I can . . . and I also have a pretty good idea of what it tastes like now as well!!!

*Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits*
Makes about 12 (unless you are greedy like me and make them larger)

2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)
1 TBS baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup (Packed) light brown sugar
5 TBs cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferable toasted

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 205*C/425*F. Get out a sharp 2 inch diameter biscuit cutter, and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt and baking soda together in a bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in teh butter and, using your fingertips (Dorie's favourite method as well as mine) or a pastry blender, cut and run the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between - and that's just right.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you've got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick, gentle kneading - 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead another 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour and pat the dough out with your hands or roll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if the dough isn't completely even - a quick light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits ca be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting-- just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

Monday 25 February 2008

The Colour of Spring

~William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

This is the season of yellow. All around me, everywhere I look, the golden blooms of daffodils are bursting out and adorning our landscape in their glorious yellow blossoms.

Over here, it seems, that every traffic circle is filled in the centre with a myriad of daffodils, their cheery heads bobbing in the wind. What a lovely sight it is to behold. Likewise so are the edges of village ponds and walkways. They are such a wonder. This first smile of spring.

We had such a busy day on Saturday. With the warmer weather we decided to paint all the doors of the cottage, which is something that we have been putting off all winter but something that badly needed doing. They look lovely now, all pristine and without a scratch. The cottage smells clean and new. Now all we have to do is start on the walls, which I am afraid will have to wait a while, for they will take some time.

I have had yards and yards of blue checked gingham fabric sitting in my craft cupboard for the past four years waiting for me to sew into curtains for the larder and laundry room. I finally, with the help of a friend, got this done on Saturday as well. I even managed to edge some of them with some lovely crochet white cotton lace that I got in a bargain once upon a time. They look really lovely all in place. Yellow and blue are my favouritest of colours. (my blog, my words, even if they really aren't words at all)

I got the lemon dessert made on the weekend as well. I was so full of the wonders and blessings of spring, that I dared to adorn the tops of them in a stroke of inspired spring whimsey, with little yellow chick sprinkles that I had in the cupboard and a few yellow sparkles. It just seemed fitting that I should do so . . .

Pssssstt!!! Todd is not a fan of lemon . . . I wonder to whom it will fall to eat these up??? (fruit is good for breakfast, right???)

*Layered Lemon Dessert*
Serves 15

This is a dessert I clipped out of a magazine, probably Taste of Home, some years back. It is a tried and true family favourite and I am happy to say, that, now there are just the two of us, it is also easily halved!

First Layer:
1 cup cold butter
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Second Layer:
2 packages (8 ounces each) of cream cheese, softened
1 cup icing sugar
1 cup whipping cream, whipped

Third Layer:
2 packages (8 ounces each) cook and serve Lemon pudding and pie filling mix
1 cup sugar
4 1/2 cups cold water, divided
4 egg yolks (save the whites for Pavlova. They freeze really well)

Top Layer:
2 cups whipping cream
2 TBS sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Measure the flour into the bowl for the first layer. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir inthe pecans. Press the mixture into an ungreased 13 X 9 X 2 inch baking dish. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, until slightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and icing sugar. Beat well. Fold in the whipped cream and spread the mixture into the cooled crush. Put in the fridge to chill.

Make the lemon layer as follows. (I usually make this while the crust is baking so that it can have time to cool) Combine the puddign mix, sugar, 1 cup of the water and the egg yolks in a saucepan, stirring until smooth. Stir in the remaining water. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from the heat and cool completely. (I sometimes pour the mixture into a large sheet pan with sides and spread it out so that it cools faster) Once it is completely cooled, spread it over the cream cheese layer.

For the final layer, beat the cream sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form, taking care not to overbeat. Spread this over the lemon layer. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Saturday 23 February 2008

Spring and an Easter Giveaway

Already the days are getting longer. I am going to work now in daylight instead of dusk. The snowdrops and crocus are blooming througout my garden, as well as some of the early daffodils. Each branch is beginning to "green" and I can see the beginnings of buds breaking out on the rose bushes and the Hydrangea. I can't wait to see them come truly alive again!

The birdsong is getting a little cheerier. I listen to them as I walk up the laneway to work early in the morning, and they sound so happy. Nest building I presume, getting ready for the eggs and babies and hard work that is to come.

We got a new birdfeeder this month to replace the wooden table that we had before that was getting quite rickety, probably from having been blown over in too many wind storms. This one is a sturdy metal pole and the birds seem to love it so. We are calling it the Oak Cottage Hilton and it's nice to see them all out there enjoying themselves throughout the day. We have nuthatches, wagtails, tits, gold finches, blackbirds, song thrushes, doves, pigeons (of course) starlings (*%£$!) and our lovely little robins, just to name a few.

I know it's hard to believe, but Easter is only a month away!!!! How did that happen??? I was sitting here thinking I had oodles of time left, but only just realized that it is on the 23rd of March this year, exactly one month from tommorrow!

I love Easter. As a girl, I always had a new dress to wear to church on Easter Sunday and those itchy flesh coloured stockings of the winter were finally put away and I could wear knee socks! What a wonderful liberation! Everything seemed fresh and clean and new.

On Easter morning, our Easter baskets were full of lovely coloured eggs that my mother had painstakingly coloured with crayons from our crayon tin the night before. My favourite ones were always the ones she had done in coloured stripes, using every colour from the tin. After all the excitement had settled, she would pierce the ends of them with a pin and carefully blow out the egg inside and we would have a scrambled egg feast for our breakfasts, along with nicely browned bits of ham and buttered toast. No breakfast ever tasted finer. Sometimes she would let us have a go at the blowing and my how our cheeks would hurt aftewards. We'd spend the rest of the day with the empty coloured shells strung on yarn about our necks, like a gaily coloured necklace, each of us trying to see which one of us could get through the day without breaking any, and who would have the most unbroken coloured shells left by the end of the day.

Easter to me will always be bamboo baskets full of sparkly green Easter grass, crayon coloured eggs, icky coloured sugar eggs filled with marshmallow that I hated as a child, (but oddly enough crave now that I can't get them anymore) coloured jelly beans, and a chocolate bunny. As a child it was more often than not cheap chocolate bunny wrapped in gaily coloured foil, but now, as an adult I settle for Lindt. Rank has it's priviledges, as does age and now that I am buying my own bunny, nothing less will do.

I'd like to share some Easter Bounty with you, my readers, as well. I am giving away a Lovely gold foil wrapped Lindt Easter bunny, complete with red beribboned bell and a lovely Ferrero Rocher Egg filled with lovely chocolate and hazelnut truffles. To be in on the fun, just leave me a comment on this post, along with your preference of which of the two you would like. In two weeks time, I will draw two names and two of you lucky readers will be gifted with some extra Easter goodness this year!

This is the perfect time to come out of lurkdom and make yourselves known to me. Come on now, you know you want to! It's chocolate, and good chocolate at that!!! Who can resist???

Thursday 21 February 2008

All that I am . . .

I wrote this post on my other blog, Marie's Muses , the other morning. (I write on there every day) I like to think of that page as being food for the soul, as well as for the tum tum. I was rather proud of this piece after I had done it, and I thought to myself, why not share it with my Oak Cottage readers as well. I hope that you like it.

I Am
I am from an old carved wooden box of the Oregon Trail sitting on a faded and threadbare picture carpet from Sicily atop our television, from a big box of Tide soap smelling clean and fresh, and cartons of Orange and Apricot flavoured Beep, and glass milk bottles left on the porch.

I am from war time military housing, each one a cookie cutter stamp of the next, but what we called home . . . each one made our own by all the bits and bobs we carried around with us like a turtle carries his home on his back.

I am from pine forests and clear woodland streams, rolling orchards and misty harbours full of fishing boats anchored and resting until another clear day rolls around, and rocky mountain meadows full of wild flowers and babbling brooks.

I am from a grandmothers Molasses cookies, warm from the oven, and from always being right, from Nina and Elmer and Henrietta B, and all the staid and ordinary folk that came before me.
I am from the salt of the earth and hard working hands, hearts that cared and eyes that cried tears made of salt and soul and the milk of human kindness.

I am from pioneer men and strong women who weren‘t afraid to leave all that was familiar and theirs, and venture into new lands, making new starts built on hope and dreams.

I am from a God who loves even me, with all of my shortcomings and weaknesses. He uses them to make me strong and carries me when I can no longer carry myself and sets my feet upon higher ground, lifting me up to places I never dreamed of going.

I am from the wilds of Glasgow and the loins of Boyd McNayr, from Phillippe and Anne and the cobbled streets of French Aristocrats, and baking powder biscuits, Saturday night baked beans and wieners and chips and Hockey Night in Canada.

I am from the hearts that were broken and spirits that were mended by stitches of family love, from ancient Uncles losing limbs in Boer Wars who fed me humbugs on an old lady’s porch , the patchwork that is family sewn together from scraps and stories and roots that run deep in the soil of small mountain villages looking down on clean valleys.

I am from boxes of photos that lay in my mother’s home, black and white images of stoic faces, honest people with work worn hands, big hearts, twinkling eyes, and stories whispered and legends told,ancientmemories of humble folk and sturdy stock. I am their future, their hope, their dreams . . . they live on in me and those who will come after me . . .

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Tuesdays With Dorie and An Almost Fudge Gateaux

I am in love, seriously in love . . . but then . . . when you are speaking about words like "fudge" and "gateaux" all in one breath, that is not surprising!!!

This week's Dorie challenge could not have come at a better time, what with Valentines day and hearts and flowers flying around Oak Cottage, this was the perfect dessert to share with a loved one and some friends last Thursday evening. Without further adieu I present you with the Dorie challenge of the week as chosen by Nikki of Crazy Delicious . "Almost Fudge Gateaux"

As soon as I knew what this week's recipe was going to be, I knew it would fit the bill for a delicious celebratory dessert, and because it is Dorie's, that it would be a winner. I was right on both counts.

I actually make a dessert quite similar to this up atwork, called a flourless chocolate cake. I always serve it cut it into small slivers and placed on cut glass plates with a drizzle of raspberry coulis, a dollop of fresh clotted cream and a few fresh raspberries on the side as a garnish. It's both pretty and quite tasty. With that recipe though, you almost have to eat it right away . . . as it does not sit well and can seem somewhat dry the day afterwards.

Not so with Dorrie's though! Here it is, almost a week later, and yes, amazingly enough, there is still a bit here (as I have been trying hard to be a good girl this week). It is just as moist and fudgy this morning, as it was on the day I baked it, if not more so. (Fudge gateaux is good for breakfast right? It does contain four of the main food groups . . . eggs, sugar, four and . . . umm . . . the most important one of all . . . chocolate!)

I served it up drizzled with some Merchant Goumet Tres Leche Caramel sauce and people were licking their plates . . . I kid you not. This, folks, is a chocolate lover's delight . . . dense, fudgy and almost too good to be true. In short . . . a winner! (but then I knew it would be. I couldn't lose!) I know what the Mrs is going to get for her chocolate dessert at the next dinner party and I know that she will love it!

*Almost-Fudge G√Ęteau *

5 large eggs
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used lindt of course!)
1 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons coffee or water
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the Glaze (optional)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixer bowl or other large bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the chocolate, sugar butter and coffee. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; the sugar may still be grainy, and that's fine. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let the mixture sit for 3 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Working with the whisk attachment of the mixer or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they hold firm, but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Scrape the butter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cake has risen evenly (it might rise around the edges and you'll think it's done, but give it a few minutes more, and the center will puff too) and the top has firmed (it will probably be cracked) and doesn't shimmy when tapped; a thin knife inserted into the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Run a blunt knife gently around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Carefully turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the pan bottom and the parchment paper. Invert the cake onto another rack and cool to room temperature right side up. As the cake cools, it may sink.

To Make the Optional Glaze:
First, turn the cooled cake over onto another rack so you'll be glazing the flat bottom, and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper to catch any drips.
Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven – the chocolate should be just melted and only warm, not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in the corn syrup.

Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth the top with a long metal icing spatula. Don't worry if the glaze drips unevenly down the sides of the cake – it will just add to its charms. Allow the glaze to set at room temperature or, if you're impatient, slip the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. If the glaze dulls in the fridge, just give it a little gentle heat from a hairdryer.

I wonder what next week's delicious challenge is going to be! By the way so far it looks like the front runner in my "Make Me Bake" challenge is the Layered Lemon Dessert. Only a few hours left to vote now!

Thursday 14 February 2008

Hearts and Flowers

Here we are on the day of hearts and flowers. I wonder will I be receiving something special later on today? The first year we were married I got a lovely necklace that I had been admiring in a shop window for weeks. It is a dainty heart shaped cubic zirconia pendant . . . just right for me, as I am not one of those that goes in for big jewelry and garish displays. I wear it every day, next to my heart, a constant reminder that I am his and he is mine . . .

Roses are wasted on me, for I love the simpler flowers such as sweetpeas, pansies and violets, my absolute favourites being the pansy. Sadly this is not the time of year for them, at least not in our garden.

I love looking into their lovely little faces and imagining I am greeting a row of friends every time I stroll down our garden path.

"And then there's pansies, that's for thoughts." said Shakespeare's Ophelia, for it is the emblem of love and kind thoughts. It is therefore a flower particularly associated with St. Valentines Day. I would so love to be presented with a bouquet of them . . . but then again my heart would break, for cut flowers always die and I prefer them to live . . . in my garden with their roots firmly planted in the earth so that I can enjoy them for more than just a few days.

I wonder if pansies could talk to us, what would they say? Would they titillate our minds with stories of loves won and lost? Would they soothe our souls with kind words and phrases? Would they sing to us of faraway places and lands? Would they weave the magic of wondrous tales and adventures around our souls?

Sometimes when I come upon them, they seem to be dancing, their little heads bobbing up and down as a gentle garden breeze touches upon them. It reminds me of the cartoons I loved to watch as a child, which were full of dancing flowers and fairies and all sorts of magical images and thoughts.

This is the day for lovers and being loved, for small gifts and tokens of affection . . . I bake for my love, small bites of buttery goodness, with crunchy bits, and spicy bits all tucked inside and bathed in the sweet goodness of milky sweet white chocolate . . . and if a few make their way into my own sweet lips, well . . . c'est la vie . . . this is a love bite of a different colour.

*Apricot, Ginger and Macadamia Love Bites*
Makes about 16 depending on how big you cut them

I love the wonderful flavours in these delicious little bites. Based on a butterscotch brownie recipe of mine I thought to myself one day, why not add some bits of apricot and candied ginger and while I'm at it some macadamia nuts and white chocolate chunks would also go down rather well, the end result being bliss . . . pure bliss, just like a long lost lover's kiss . . .

140g butter
2 large eggs, at room temperature
pinch of salt
350g soft light brown sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla essence
250g self rising flour
50 g of good quality white chocolate, but into small bits (I use Green and Black's)
100g macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
40g chopped dried apricots
40g chopped candied stem ginger
50g of good quality white chocolate, melted

Pre-heat the oven to 160*C/350*F. Butter a shallow 9 inch square pan and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small bowl and set it aside to cool. In the meantime chop up your chocolate, nuts, apricots and ginger.

Beat the eggs until frothy in a medium bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, salt and vanilla. Tip in the flour, mixing in only until combined. Fold in the chopped nuts, apricots, chocolate and ginger.

Spread the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until done. Don't overbake. You want them dry on top, with only the slightest resistance to the touch of a fingertip, but you also want them to be fudgy and moist.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely before cutting into small squares. Either drizzle with the melted white chocolate or dip a corner into it. Set aside on a wire rack to dry before serving. Bet you can't eat just one!

By the way Ursula, you are the lucky winner of my Valentines Giveaway Candle!!! Please e-mail me with your personal details so that I can pop it into the mail for you.

I don't want all you others to feel disheartened if you didn't win this time. I'll be doing another giveaway real soon and you could be a winner then! Thanks to all of your kindnesses in participating!

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Apples and Cheese, a winning combination

I have been a big fan of Dorie Greenspan's baking recipes for quite some time now and have had her book, Baking, from my home to yours on my bookshelf for quite some time. Oh, I have dabbled a bit here and there in it, and always with excellent results, but not near as much as I had determined to when I first purchased it.

It's a lovely book, with beautiful pictures, which as any foodie will tell you are a pre-requisite for a cookery book being considered worthy of purchase. It's not about the recipes folks, it's about the food porn on it's pages and anyone that tells you anything different is telline porky pies!

Okay, well I concede . . . it is somewhat about the recipes too. When you happen to have both present in the pages of one book, well then that makes for a real winning combination!

I was so excited last week to discover a baking group of foodie bloggers who participate in a weekly blogging event called Tuesdays With Dorie . Each week a new recipe is picked from the lovely pages of Dorie's book and we all bake it and then post the results together!

I was so excited when I learned that the first recipe I would be baking was the lucious looking recipe (no picture in the book for this recipe folks) Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake, as chosen by Jaime of Good Eats n’ Sweet Treats.

I love apples. I love cheese and let me tell you, after having cooked this rather delectably tasty dessert . . . . I love apples and cheese even more when they are together!

Could this be true? You be the judge . . . now where did I leave my fork? (I can't wait until next week, we're doing Amost Fudge Gateaux as chosen by Nikki of Crazy Delicious)

*Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake*
Makes about 16 servings

For the Crust:
30 gingersnaps (or a scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs)
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples:
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling:
1 1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp apple cider
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust: Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you're using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they'll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.

Getting Ready to Bake: Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center--if the center shimmies, that's just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan's latch and release and remove the sides.

*Note: I made a few adaptions to the recipe. I added a streusal topping before I put the top layer of the apples on, which was mighty tasty, and I also cooked some extra sliced apples to serve on the side. Can you ever have enough caramelish apples??? I think not!!!

PS- The clear winner from my baking poll is Portugese Custard Tarts. Look for them on here within a couple of days. In the meantime I will be putting up a new list soon!

Wednesday 6 February 2008

What a difference a day makes

Sometimes I feel like it rains so much here in the winter that I am going to turn into a duck and start to develop webbed feet! These past few weeks have been full of rain, rain and what else but more rain! But that is winter over here.

Everything is looking decidely muddy and grey. The ground squelches beneath your feet when you dare to go for a walk through the orchard and I am very glad for my Wellies, something which I never needed before, in my life back in Canada, but of which I am making very good use of now! I have bright blue Croc wellies, and I just love them! Perhaps, I do look a bit like a duck walking through the orchard wearing them, but at least I am a comfortable and dry duck! (I am thinking now that it's a good thing I didn't go for the yellow ones!)

Yesterday was very dark and rainy, and then . . . all of a sudden the sun broke through the clouds in mid-afternoon. I was standing at the kitchen sink working and lost in thought. As I looked across the wall at the edge of the kitchen courtyard, I could see just over it, in the skyline, was a rainbow! I quickly dashed outside to have a closer look. It was a very fleeting rainbow . . . it moved across the sky in tune to the wind which appeared to be blowing it along with the clouds, and it was soon going, going, gone . . .

Today the sun shone beautifully all day. The sky, which had been dark and grey for most of the day, and indeed the whole week before, was a beautiful blue, with nary a cloud in sight. Even the air seemed warmer, putting an extra bounce in the step and a song in the heart.

As I walked home to the cottage on my afternoon break, I chanced to see some little snowdrops blooming at the edge of our soggy garden, their dainty little white heads dancing in the soft breeze that was blowing. They are hope to me, a promise that spring is just around the corner. Can the bluebells be very far behind? What a difference a day makes . . .

I don't like to eat meat all the time. Once or twice a week I like to cook us a Vegetarian option, and one of our favourites is this lovely Cauliflower Cheese Pie. With it's crunchy potato crust it is a real pleaser on all counts.

*Cauliflower Cheese Pie With Grated Potato Crust*
Serves 6

This delicious vegetarian entree is very easy to put together and uses things that most people have in their larder and fridges. The grated potato crust is fabulous and I can imagine using it for all sorts of entrees. If you love cauliflower cheese, this pie is for you!

2 cups packed grated raw potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup grated onion
1 cup grated strong cheddar cheese, packed
1 medium head of cauliflower, broken into small florets
1 garlic clove, Peeled and crushed
1 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves, rubbed between your fingers
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
freshly ground black pepper to taste
paprika to dust on top

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Oil a 9 inch pie tin and set aside.

Set the freshly grated potato in a colander over a bowl. Salt it and leave for 10 minutes. Then, squeeze out the excess water. Beat in the egg, salt and grated onion.

Pat into the prepared pie tin, building up the sides of the crust with lightly floured fingers. Bake in the heated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until browned. After the first 30 minutes, brush with some more oil to help it get really crisp.

Meanwhile saute the onions and garlic in the butter until soft without browning, for about 5 minutes. Add the herbs and cauliflower and cook, covered, 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and the pepper.

Spread half the cheese into the baked crust. Top with the sauted vegetables, then the rest of the cheese. Beat together the egg and milk and carefully pour over. Dust with paprika.

Lower the oven temperature to 180*C/375*F and bake for 35 to 40 minutes longer, until custard is set and is pie is nicely browned.

Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes before cutting into slices to serve. I like to serve this with a leafy tossed salad.

Doesn't it look good??? You can be sure it's totally delicious!!! Would I lie to you?

PS - Have you noticed the new feature I have added over in the right hand column, called "Make Me Bake" ?? Each week I will post a new list of delicious baked goodies and you, my readers, will have the option of voting for whichever one you would like for me to bake and then share with you here at Oak Cottage. I can't wait to see what you all pick first! Will it be the Portugese Custard Tarts, or the Buttermilk Birthday Cupcakes???? Who knows!

Saturday 2 February 2008

A Valentine's Giveaway just because I care

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
"I love her for her smile her look her way
Of speaking gently, for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of ease on such a day"
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee, and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheek dry,
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou may'st love on, through love's eternity.

In honor of one of my very favourite holidays I would like to give one of you, my faithful readers a gift so I am doing a giveaway this month. The prize is a lovely candle by Lilyflame candles called Blush. Trust me when I say, this candle smells good enough to eat, but you won't eat it. You may find yourself seeking it out several times a day and huffing it though . . .

Leave a comment and I will pull out a winner from all the comments I receive on this post on Thursday, February 14th, 2008.
Don't be shy! Let me know you're here! It's time for all you lurkers to make yourselves known!

Sweetheart's French Vanilla Eggy Bread

February is the month for romance . . . a welcome respite and distraction from winter's cold and bleary blast. Even Jess can feel the love as she lays and warms her soft white belly in front of the fire . . .

Trinkets are exchanged along with sultry looks shared betwixt two longing lovers . . . knowing glances . . . a stray lock of hair curling along the nape of a slender neck . . . contented sighs . . . the blush of soft cheeks and lowered lashes . . .

The soft brush of a caring hand across strong shoulders . . . the touch of a gentle hand against a sleeve . . . soft laughter . . . a breath as soft as a baby's sighs whisper sweet words that delight and inspire . . .

Laughter abounds amongst the soft feather pillows . . . all nestled and cosy beneath the warm underdown . . . flames flicker across the ceiling . . . soft flakes falling amidst the bare limbs of the orchard trees . . . winter's frigid wind cannot touch us with it's icy fingers . . .
. . . For Love . . .
. . . Lives Here . . .

*Sweetheart's French Vanilla Eggy Bread*
Serves 4
This is a real favourite for kids and lovers and friends . . . You can leave the slices of bread whole if you wish, but I like to cut out heart shapes for special loved ones. Served in bed on a tray it's a really wonderful way to show someone that you truly care.
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla paste
8 slices of good quality firm white bread
a couple of knobs of unsalted butter as needed
Icing sugar to dust
Syrup to serve
Beat the eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla paste together in a large shallow bowl. If you are cutting the bread into shapes do it now.
Heat a large skillet with a heavy bottom over medium high heat. Add a knob of butter and let it melt until it begins to foam. Then reduce the heat to medium. You do not want the butter to burn.
Dip the slices or pieces of bread into the egg mixture coating both sides, and allowing it to soak in a bit. (Not too much or it will be hard to lift without tearing) Place the soaked bread into the heated skillet. Cook until golden brown on each side, only turning once. Remove and keep warm on a plate in a slow oven until you are finished browning each piece.
Serve hot on heated plates with a light dusting of icing sugar and some syrup on the side for pouring. A few rashers of streaky bacon are also good "go withs".

A heart for your Valentine This has been an entry in the Valentines Day , a heart for your Valentine blogging event being hosted by 1x umruehren bitte aka kochtopf . Hop on over and have a look at all the special treats being prepared for loved ones and special folks in honor of Valentines Day.